Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Review: La Bastarda: A Novel

La Bastarda: A Novel La Bastarda: A Novel by Trifonia Melibea Obono
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"The first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, La Bastarda is the story of the orphaned teen Okomo, who lives under the watchful eye of her grandmother and dreams of finding her father. Forbidden from seeking him out, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of “mysterious” girls reveling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture."

This is a quick read but immediately immerses you into the Fang cultural expectations through Okomo's eyes, because she has so many limitations beyond her control. I had to do some reading about Equatorial Guinea, and I think my first surprise was that the novel was translated from the Spanish! The fighting between wives was also reminiscent of The First Wife by Paulina Chiziane.

La Bastarda was on the Over the Rainbow list from ALA last year, but since I was a non-fiction judge I didn't get to it until now. So I have a copy from the publisher, somewhere, but I ended up reading it in Hoopla (mea culpa.)

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Review: The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth

The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth The Blind Earthworm in the Labyrinth by Veeraporn Nitiprapha
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Watch the book, it's trying to be stuffed." (Bing translated excerpt from one of the many Thai reviews. I was curious about them but most are nonsensical using an online translator, unfortunately.)

I was excited to read another newish translation by a female Thai author! It is based on the tropes of Thai soap operas, which I know nothing about, but that probably explains the death scenes, relationships, and ghosts. The central story is two sisters and a boy they pull into their family. I struggled a bit with the non linear nature (one character is introduced in his death scene and everything with him moves backwards from that) but enjoyed the details of flora/fauna/food/music/history. The translator note at the beginning is fascinating too. This was not an easy book to translate! But I am glad I got to read it.
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This counts for two categories of #readingenvysummerreading - something blue and something translated! Arguably it might almost count for swampy considering that it is set along a river outside Bangkok.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Reading Envy 160: Reading Plays with Elizabeth

Elizabeth is fresh a teaching seminar on plays so we talk about that for a bit before delving into books we have read and enjoyed recently. We have some books traversing the wild parts, books for pride, and more.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 160: Reading Plays
with Elizabeth
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Books discussed:



In the Distance by Hernan Díaz
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
The Line Tender by Kate Allen
Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong


Other mentions:

Common Ground - University of Houston
Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks
Ruined by Lynn Nottage
Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Manahatta by Mary Kathryn Nagle
Sun Sisters by Vasanti Saxena
In the Next Room, or The Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
Books on the Go podcast - Lost Children Archive
Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli
Stories of Your Life and Others Ted Chiang
Camp ToB
The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Swamplandia by Karen Russell
Devotions by Mary Oliver
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Sounds like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
Lot by Brian Washington
Bangkok Walks to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddney Ratner



Related Episodes:

Episode 033 - An Undulating Thrum with guests Ruth and Elizabeth
Episode 061 - Never Do That to a Book with Elizabeth
Episode 136 - Six Pack with Elizabeth


Stalk us online:

Elizabeth at Goodreads   
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Review: The Best American Poetry 2019

The Best American Poetry 2019 The Best American Poetry 2019 by David Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to give this anthology 5 stars because the best in it is surely 5 stars, and if not to me, to someone else. My main source of conflict is that I find I need the series editor or even this volume editor to define their use of the word "American." I assumed USA, since that is the fairly standard use of American on its own, while acknowledging that this has always been problematic. But two fairly prominent Canadians appear in these pages - Margaret Atwood and Leonard Cohen. Margaret is known in her disdain for America (we are always her model for dystopia, after all, love you Margaret) and Leonard is a pure Canadian who can't possibly have written any new poetry in the last year (except there is new work in a 2018 collection, and I need to read this - The Flame.) And if this is indeed North American, where are the first-nations poets, the trans-Chinese-immigrant poets, the French translated poets from the various regions of Canada, all of whom I read extensively and loved last year? And if this is North American, where is Mexico? Why call it American if that's not the intent? I really am confused. I really think this needs clarification. I reread the preface and the intro but they are not clear.

I did enjoy the introduction by the series editor explaining how he chose the poems that "braved human connection" and were from multiple perspectives. He includes song lyrics, which I appreciated. And one of the reasons I love these anthologies is that I tend to read single-poet collections and they tend to select poems from various periodicals, which of course is often where they first appear. I prefer mine in context of a poet's work; there are other types of context that are useful - political, thematical, tribute, etc. So I don't often find poems I've previously encountered, although there are a few in this collection I've experienced in the past year.

Only one misstep in my book - the poem by Philip Schultz called "The Women's March" was nice enough, but who wants to read a poem about the women's movement by a man? Sorry, I'm certain Philip is a nice enough person, but can this truly be the most representative work? I also felt some of the really interesting female, Muslim, American+ immigrant/refugee poets are noticeably absent from the collection. Hopefully some of the voices from volumes like Halal If You Hear Me: The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 3 will surface by 2020.

My favorites included:

Six Obits by Victoria Chang (nice to have them as a set as they are sprinkled around various poetry publications otherwise)

I Invite My Parents to a Dinner Party by Chen Chen (listen to the poet read it on SoundCloud, about the eternal coming out that happens in resistant families - I loved his first collection and look forward to the next!)

Drank a Lot by Leonard Cohen (read it on the )

Virgil, Hey by Camille Guthrie (read this poem of motherhood on
New Republic)

The Undressing by Li-Young Lee (the most brainy sensual poem in existence, which I originally read in The Undressing: Poems but the individual poem can also be read at The American Poetry Review)

A Brief History of the Future Apocalypse by Rebecca Lindenberg

The Black Saint & The Sinner Lady & The Dead & The Truth by Morgan Parker (also in her collection Magical Negro, which everyone should read, you won't be sorry, but okay, you can also read it at Harper's Magazine)

Partly True Poem Reflected in a Mirror by Ocean Vuong (available on Poetry London, also read his novel - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous)

I had an early copy of this from the publisher through NetGalley. It is not available until September 10, 2019, but I couldn't wait!

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Halfway Top Ten

There is a challenge going on in Instagram to post our top ten books of the year so far. Phew, this was hard. As of yesterday I'd finished 161 books for 2019. Narrowing that to 10 titles was not easy. It's tempting to make a list of runners-up but since I post my books read every month, including images of all the five-star reads, if you want more, that's where to go.

These are in no particular order, other than a bit of backwards chronologically.


  1. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
    This book had so many things for me - soundscapes, Stephen Feld, marital strife, interweaving story with research, plus a lot about current politics.
  2. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
    The language is everything and the emotions run deep.
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    As much as this novel is a part of American popular culture, I really had no idea what it was really about, or how it ended. Scarlett is unforgettable and I'll be thinking about this novel a long time.
  4. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
    Picked for me by book club but a huge surprise favorite, about cross cultural communication, medical philosophy, and I learned a lot about the Hmong.
  5. Brute: Poems by Emily Skaja
    Amazing through and through, what a debut. And I really enjoyed reading one on <a href="http://readingenvy.blogspot.com/2019/07/reading-envy-159-reading-doorways-with.html">episode 159</a> of the podcast.
  6. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
    On the surface, a "typical" immigrant novel but the way it transitions into the story about the father was a move of brilliance I will not long forget.
  7. The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish by Katya Apekina
    A story told through the sideways glance of everyone else in the room, brilliant.
  8. Library of Small Catastrophes by Alison C. Rollins
    Another poetry volume worthy of more attention. And Rollins is a poet-librarian!
  9. The Vela by Yoon Ha Lee, Becky Chambers, S.L. Huang and Rivers Solomon
    Part of it is the format - serial audio/ebook content. Part of it is the four authors and their joint writing experience, but I just thought the story itself was interesting and timely. Space refugees.
  10. Outline by Rachel Cusk
    I dragged my feet reading this book but now think I could reread it every few years and get more out of it. In this book nothing happens and it's the best example of why this doesn't matter to me. 

What have your best reads been this year?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Mid-Year Reading Goal Checkpoint

You can check out my original goals post to see what I was thinking of doing this year. The main reading project I took on that isn't mentioned is the TBR Explode project, which I've been updating every three months.

1. Read Asia

I'm currently reading two more books that will count for this challenge, but here is what I've read so far:

Burma/Myanmar
The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma by Jan-Philipp Sendker

China
Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited by Ken Liu
Double Awesome Chinese Food by Margaret Li

Japan
After Dark by Haruki Murakami
After the Quake by Haruki Murakami
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami
My Brother's Husband V. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame  
My Brother's Husband V. 2 by Gengoroh Tagame

Laos
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The Philippines
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
The Body Papers by Grace Talusan
Monsoon Mansion by Cinelle Barnes
Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Singapore
Aunty Lee's Delights by Ovidia Yu

Thailand
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana
Bright by Duanwad Pimwana
The Sad Part Was by Prabda Yoon
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Vietnam
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Friday, July 5, 2019

Review: The Book of X

The Book of X The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cassie is born with a knot, just like her mother and grandmother. She enters a world of bullying, inadequate medical care, isolation and boredom. Outside of school her life seems intended for repetition of pain and cleaning the walls with lemons, while her father and brother work in the meat quarry, but her life is vivid with visions that provide some form of escape, although it isn't always positive. (It's fascinating to read interviews with the author because she was incredibly isolated in Iceland while writing most of this. The landscape feels unworldly in that way that only Iceland can.)

The cover is striking. When I saw it online I thought it was sunset in a valley, then I realized it's hair and a woman in the center, but now that I've read it I realize it is both and also probably the meat quarry.

The feeling of the novel kept making me think of Kassandra and the Wolf by Margarita Karapanou, mixed with The Yellow Wallpaper.

I received a copy of The Book of X from the publisher. It comes out July 16.

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